The End of the Printed Encyclopaedia

When I was growing up, my parents had a set of Collier’s Encyclopaedias. I would spend hours sitting on the floor, looking things up and reading about people, places, and things that seemed worlds away. It was a rich source of information that fueled my interests and curiosity.

While I am nostalgic regarding the role these books had in my formative years and I am certainly a lover of printed books, I accept without hesitation that the printed encyclopaedia needs to be laid to rest. Which was why I was not at all surprised when I read about the decision to stop printing the Encyclopaedia Britannica after 244 years of publication. Actually, I’m surprised it has survived as long as it has. The encyclopaedia is not like a magazine you can pick up at a stand before boarding a plane, if can’t be tossed onto your doorstep each morning like a newspaper, and you can’t easily tuck it into your backpack as you head off to the beach. The reality is, it’s a behemoth that has reached the end of its era. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s president, “A printed encyclopaedia is obsolete the minute that you print it” (click here to read more).

But there is another reason that the transition from printed to digital encyclopaedias had to occur, which I feel is just as important as the ability to keep the information current in our rapidly evolving world. This is the incorporation of rich media in digital reference materials. The fact that you can incorporate audio, video, expanding text for definitions, and hyperlinks to related topics, makes the digital format ideal for an encyclopaedia. Not to mention that any student with a tablet can now carry an entire encyclopaedia set around from class to class. In my opinion, that is pretty awesome.

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